The Imperial City, or Huangcheng in Chinese and literally "the inner city," is a section of the city of Beijing in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. It refers to the collection of gardens, shrines, and other service areas between the Forbidden City and the inner city of ancient Beijing. The Imperial City was surrounded by a wall and accessed through six gates.
In the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Beijing was known as Dadu, and the Imperial City formed the center of the city. In 1368, the Ming armies conquered Dadu, and changed its name to Beiping (the two characters meaning "north" and "peace"), with the capital moved to Nanjing. Because the Imperial City was untouched by battle, most of the Imperial City survived the war; however in 1369, the Hongwu Emperor ordered the Imperial City to be demolished.
In 1370, the Hongwu Emperor's fourth son Zhu Di was appointed Prince of Yan, with a seat in Beiping. In 1379 he built a princely palace within the Yuan Imperial City.
In 1399, Zhu Di launched a coup and ascended to the throne to become the Yongle Emperor in 1402. In 1403, the name of Beiping was changed to Beijing (literally "the Northern Capital"), and in 1406, a plan was drafted to move the capital to Beijing.
In 1416, construction of the Forbidden City began, copying the layout of existing palaces in Nanjing. The new imperial palace was placed to the east of the Yuan palace in the "White Tiger" or "Kill" position in fengshui. Also for fenghsui reasons, the earth dug up from construction of the moat had been used to construct Jingshan Hill to the north of the imperial palace.
On the basis of the Yuan Imperial City, the area was expanded to encompass the lakes of Zhongnanhai and Beihai, and a significant area beyond.
The Imperial City centers on the Forbidden City. To the west of the Forbidden City are the Zhongnanhai and Beihai, which were surrounded by imperial gardens and had been collectively-known as Western Park.
To the south of the Forbidden City are the Imperial Shrine of Family (Tai Miao in Chinese) and Shrine of State (Tai She Ji in Chinese). Further to the south was the "Corridor of a Thousand Steps", to either side of which are the offices of the various government ministries.
There are six gates in the walls of the Imperial City. To the south is the Great Ming Gate (later renamed the Great Qing Gate, Gate of China). Behind the Great Ming Gate was the Chengtianmen (later renamed the Tian'anmen, "Gate of Heavenly Peace"). To either side of the Tiananmen were the Left Chang'an Gate and the Right Chang'an Gate. To the east was Donganmen ("Gate of Eastern Peace"); to the west was the Xi'anmen ("Gate of Western Peace"). To the north was Houzaimen (later renamed the Di'anmen, "Gate of Earthly Peace").
Also housed in the Imperial City were many service buildings for the imperial palace, warehouses, a leopard house, Taoist temples, and a palace for the Imperial Grandson.
After the fall of the Ming Dynasty, rulers of the Qing Dynasty removed most service buildings. Apart from a narrow area surrounding the lakes of Zhongnanhai and Beihai, the western parts of the Imperial City were given to princes and members of the Eight Banners as residential land. Likewise, apart from a small number of warehouses, the eastern parts of the Imperial City were also given to members of the Eight Banners as residential land.
Republic of China to present
After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, the Republic of China government took over the Imperial City. Zhongnanhai was, for a time, converted into the Presidential Palace. The Imperial Shrines became a part of the Palace Museum. Beihai Park and Jingshan Hill became public parks. Most former temples and imperial warehouses gradually became private residences.
In 1912, during a coup by warlord Cao Kun, the Donganmen Gate was destroyed by fire. In 1914, the Corridor of a Thousand Steps was demolished to make way for Zhongshan Park, named after Sun Yat-sen. In 1915, in order to improve traffic, much of the wall surrounding the Imperial City was demolished. After the capital was moved to Nanjing, Zhongnanhai became a public park.
In 1949, the People's Republic of China was established in Beijing. In the next few years, the Gate of China, Left Chang'an Gate, Right Chang'an Gate, the three remaining eastern and western gates, and Di'anmen were demolished. Most temples and Paifangs in the Imperial City were demolished.
Zhongnanhai became the leadership compound of the new government, housing the central headquarters of the Communist Party of China and the State Council. Many surviving buildings in the former garden were demolished.
Since 2000, the Beijing municipal government has restored several imperial era constructions.